Time to talk about the cap

Jun. 14, 2013 @ 03:55 PM

The UNC system has again raised the specter of lifting the 18 percent out-of-state student enrollment cap.
The reasons outlined for lifting the cap in a report made to the UNC Board of Governors on Thursday include attracting the very best students and advancing economic development.
A telling statistic that emerged from the report is that almost half of out-of-state students who attend UNC schools remain in the state after graduating.
In addition, two of the five options specifically aim to strengthen the caliber of students coming to UNC Pembroke and historically black colleges by either lowering the out-of-state tuition rate at the institutions or raising the out-of-state cap at those particular schools.
The other three proposals brought before the board examine lowering the tuition rate for bordering areas, instituting a systemwide cap with institutional flexibility and excluding international students from the out-of-state cap.
The report raises some interesting ideas about how the system can move forward, and still continue to serve North Carolina residents.
Those who oppose lifting the cap fear that North Carolina residents will be giving up their seats to students who do not hail from the Tar Heel state. But the proposals blunt that argument. All five scenarios presented to the board for consideration would not decrease the percentage of first-time undergraduate in-state admissions.
It’s an intriguing notion. The report asserts that because higher-quality students would be attending the universities, costs would be driven down per degree in the long run because it will take these students less time to attain their diplomas.
A potential pitfall, though, is that there are still plenty of high-quality students who may remain on the five-year (or more) plan, either because they are reluctant to enter adulthood or, if the economy again tanks, because jobs are not plentiful.
It’s also difficult to see lowering out-of-state tuition rates when the system is facing economically difficult times. Our state Constitution binds the system to provide an affordable education for North Carolina residents – rightly, we might add – but that limits options for where the university system can look to for money.
UNC should not discount the value of its education to those coming from out of state. Our system is strong and has much to offer.
But bolstering some of our smaller colleges by luring out-of-state talent is an idea worth exploring. It may be time to examine lifting the cap, but the system needs to ensure it’s economically viable, and that it can sustain preserving the same percentage of seats for in-state students.